Wednesday, August 01, 2007

GUE Cave 1 - March 2005

Cave 1 took place about a year before I wrote this so some details are fuzzy. I'm writing from memory so it's not going to be perfect.

I took Cave 1 in March 2005. Our instructor was Tyler Moon from GUE. Tyler doesn't teach diving anymore and I hear that he is focusing on becoming a commercial pilot. His departure is a true loss for the cave diving community. Tyler is a relative old timer in cave country, having taught cave diving for about 15 years. It seemed like he knew everyone and everything there is to know about the Florida caves. Like most GUE instructors, he sets the bar very high but is patient and committed to teaching you and helping you reach new levels. He's also a very laidback and nice guy. His experience as an instructor was evident, and he had a special "feel" for what we were experiencing during the class. There were times in the cave when I was task loaded and a little freaked out by the general experience, and was dreading the inevitable simulated failures Tyler would pull on us. Yet, during those dives, he left us alone. Having us freak out in a cave would be counterproductive and he could tell when we were uncomfortable. On other dives, when we were feeling confident and happily cruising along, everything would go wrong at once. I can't say enough good things about Tyler and wish he were still teaching so I could take more classes from him.

Cave 1 limits include using 1/6 or 500psi of a set of doubles for penetration, no jumps or complex navigation, and some maximum depth and minimum visibility requirements. In Florida, most of the caves we go to down't exceed 100ft deep and have great visibility, so those limits aren't really pushed. Using 500psi for penetration means we can get 2-3 dives out of a set of overfilled LP104s.

My buddy for Cave 1 was George, who I had dove with a few times in Northeast. He had recently got his Tech 1 cert so we were both Tech 1 certified going into the class. The class was 6 days along (the class is usually 5 days but Tyler budgeted an extra day just in case). We arrive a day early and left an extra day at the end for some fun dives.

Our trip started when we met up in Gainesville airport. We picked up a Ford Explorer from Enterprise and drove to EE to get our tanks. We stayed at the Comfort Inn in Alachua for the week. We did 3 training dives in the Ginnie Ballroom area and Little Devil's Run. Nothing too fancy, just to practice the basic skills and get comfortable with each other. We eventually got bored and called it a day.

Day 1 of the class we stated completely dry. We were through some lectures with Tyler and refined our gear. We were both itching to get in the water by the end of the day.

I don't remember which day the swim test was on, but I do remember very vividly how unpleasant it was swimming up and down Little Devil's Run in swimming trunks. Can you say "COLD"?

Day 2 we still didn't get into the caves. We did 3 dives in Ginnie Ballroom. The first two, George and I took turns running the reel while Tyler shot some video. On the third dive, Tyler created a line course in open water and we navigated it 3 times - first solo with eyes closed, second solo with no mask, and third sharing gas with eyes closed. We performed up to par to Tyler told us we would finally be going cave diving the next day. Tyler treats the caves with a lot of respect and he wouldn't have let us in there if we weren't up to his standards.

Day 3 we did 3 dives in Devil's Ear. First, Tyler ran the reel, then George, and I did. I still remember the incredible rush that I got as we first went through the Ear. I'd been in strong currents before but nothing like that! The inside of the cave was so beautiful it took my breath away. The vis was endless and didn't even look like we were underwater. I knew I was hooked. Before our dives, Tyler gave us lots of tips for navigating the cave (stay high, pull n glide, etc.) but somehow when we got in the cave, we forgot everything. We went straight down the middle of the cave and got our asses kicked. We also learned to dump ALL the gas from our wings on the exit. It wasn't pretty, but we made it out in one piece. Of course , we didn't make it very far into the system that day.

Day 4 we went to Peacock Springs State Park. We did 3 dives, 1 in Peacock 1 and 2 in the Peanut Tunnel. Tyler generally left us alone for the penetration and starting pulling failures on us on the way out. We got to practice lost buddy drills, light failures, and gas sharing. I remember liking Peacock a lot due to the lack of flow and easy conditions. I was also impressed that the caves come in so many shapes and sizes. It was a real eye opener.

Day 5 Tyler took us to Manatee Springs. We did 2 dives at Catfish Hotel. After some lectures about the geology of caves, he asked us to find the cave entrance ourselves and lead the way into the cave. I didn't like Catfish Hotel at all. The vis was bad compared to Devil's and Peacock and the flow was ripping. The silty bottom meant we couldn't pull n glide our way in. We had to kick hard against the flow, and naturally, we didn't get very far.

We did our last 2 training dives on Day 6. We were back at Devil's, this time entering through the Eye. We went through lots of failures again and got to try a no vis lost line drill. I remember taking longer than I had hoped but eventually I found the line. When we got out of the water, Tyler congratulated us on passing the class and encouraged us to go diving. As if he had to tell us! That afternoon we were back for 3 dives in Devil's Ear.

The last day of our trip, we did 3 dives in Devil's Eye in the morning. We got to the winding tunnel past the Park Bench but short of the Mud Flats. Then we packed up, headed for the airport, and flew out that afternoon.

Cave 1 was a great experience. The class is long enough to teach you the basics of safe cave diving and instill in you a sense of respect for the caves. There are lots of things that can go wrong on a cave dive. But, for the most part, they are pretty uneventful, so there can be temptation to go just a little bit further, to see what's around the next corner. Here, I can draw an analogy to mountain climbing. A famous Mt. Everest guide once said "With enough determination, any bloody idiot can get up this hill. The trick is to get back down alive." Cave diving is much the same way. I've also come to realize that cave diving isn't about how far back into the cave you go, but the journey to get there.

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